The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. However, it IS fascinating to read about in The Foundation, arguably the most monumental work of science fiction.
Isaac Asimov’s works in the field of science fiction are widely accepted as required reading; one of the starting points of our collective understanding of the best about the genre. The Foundation manages to look at the past, draw from its mistakes — Asimov was inspired by The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire(a text of huge historical importance I plan on tackling over 2018). More importantly, Asimov’s crowning masterpiece is of such cultural significance because of the sheer realism of his speculation.
Psychohistory in the Foundation is a science of mathematics as much as behavior. It is the foundation, if you’ll pardon the pun, of the entire series — Hari Seldon, The Galactic Empire’s foremost psychologist and psychohistorian, sees the dissolution of this Millenia-old galaxy-spanning construct, and so takes it upon himself to limit the ensuing chaos to only a thousand years, instead of the thirty thousand it would’ve been.
But how does he knows this? Psychohistory is a science which allows one skilled enough to distinguish how trends through centuries and millennia past will disentangle in the future, by accepting that the actions of any one individual within the norm have virtually no impact on the mechanism of a society of quadrillions of humans across the galaxy. Yes, individuals play roles in the Foundation’s setting up and survival, but these roles aren’t of their own volition or because of their exceptional talents; rather, these individuals are demanded by this juggernaut of a social mechanism.
This may sound complex, but every page of the Foundation is read with an ease and deep sense of pleasure, Asimov’s prose presents complicated ideas without an issue, and his Foundation is a place you could lose yourself for days, weeks, months.
Foundation is the story of an infinitesimally small corner of the galaxy keeping the flame of knowledge and progress alive in a time when the whole of humanity descends into barbarism. A story which plots the course of civilization through the rule of secular power, religion, trade.
That such complex topics are explored in such depth in less than 200 pages is not just impressive, it’s breathtaking.
It’s science fiction at its grandest, most fatalistic and somehow, most hopeful too.